Flavonoids Prolong Life

Healthnotes Newswire (April 19, 2007)—If you thought that everything that tastes good is bad for you, here is good news: a new study found that drinking red wine and eating apples, strawberries, and even chocolate might prevent heart disease and postpone death.

Flavonoids are compounds found in many foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, grain fiber such as in bran, tea, wine, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. Some, but not all, studies have found that people who eat foods rich in flavonoids have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

Many flavonoids are strong antioxidants, which are believed to prevent atherosclerosis by reducing damage to the cells that line the blood vessels. Some flavonoids have other beneficial properties, including anti-inflammatory effects and clot prevention.

The new report, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, used data from the Iowa Women’s Health Study, which took place between 1986 and 2002. More than 34,000 postmenopausal women between 55 and 69 years old answered questionnaires about diet and other factors related to cardiac risk and stroke risk. Deaths due to cardiovascular disease and other causes were monitored throughout the study.

The women’s diets were analyzed for total flavonoid content as well as for seven specific types of flavonoids, including anthocyanidins, found in blueberries, raspberries, and red wine; flavanones, found in oranges, grapefruit, and lemons; and flavones, found in parsley and celery.

The women whose diets contained high amounts of anthocyanidins were less likely to die from cardiovascular diseases, coronary heart disease (a type of cardiovascular disease involving the arteries that supply the heart), and from any other cause than those who got little or no anthocyanidins. Flavanone intake was linked to lower risk of death due to coronary heart disease, and flavone intake to lower risk of death for any reason.

The researchers also looked at the effects of specific foods on death from heart disease, stroke, and all causes. Eating bran, apples, pears, strawberries, red wine, and chocolate protected the women against death from cardiovascular disease; eating apples, pears, red wine, and grapefruit protected them against death from coronary heart disease; and adding bran to food prevented death from stroke. Chocolate, though the effect was small, was found to prevent cardiovascular disease-related deaths.

The study’s authors speculated that, as information about food make-up becomes more precise, we will learn more about the effects of specific food compounds on health and disease. This is the first study to look at the relationships between seven subclasses of flavonoids, as well as total flavonoids, and cardiovascular mortality.

“Results from this study suggest that the intake of certain subclasses of flavonoids may be associated with lower coronary heart disease and total cardiovascular disease mortality in postmenopausal women,” they stated in their conclusion. “Furthermore, consumption of some foods that are high in flavonoid content…may have similar associations.”

(Am J Public Health 2006;96:1815–20)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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